Two RAAF F-35s have taken to the skies with a full complement of weapons for the first time.
The landmark moment came as the pair were taking part in Exercise Arnhem Thunder 21 last month from RAAF Base Darwin.
More than 500 personnel and 50 aircraft are participating in the training exercise, the largest post-COVID, which will run until 15 June 2021 and focus on ‘force generation training’.
In addition to their internal payload, the F-35s departed with laser-guided GBU-12 bombs attached to their under-wing pylons.
The bombs were dropped on ground-based targets at the Delamere Air Weapons Range, located about 120 kilometres south of Katherine.
During the course of the exercise, 10 F-35As normally based at RAAF Base Williamtown will drop more than 50 inert GBU-12s.
Previously, Air Commodore Tim Alsop said Arnhem Thunder would improve interoperability between Air Combat Group, Air Mobility Group, Surveillance and Response Group, and Combat Support Group in an offensive counter-air environment.
“Exposure to large-scale, multi-FEG scenarios in an away-base environment is of vital importance to the training outcomes of all elements across Air Force,” AIRCDRE Alsop said.
“Operating out of RAAF bases Darwin and Tindal in the Northern Territory, Exercise Arnhem Thunder provides an excellent venue for cross-FEG interoperability, high-end air power missions, as well as airbase activation in an austere environment.”
In March, Australian Aviation reported how Australia took delivery of three new F-35A Lightning II, taking its current fleet to 33.
The aircraft travelled from Luke Air Force Base in Arizona and were supported by two KC-30A Multi Role Tanker Transport aircraft from No. 33 Squadron and a C-17A Globemaster from No. 36 Squadron.
Over the coming years, Australia will purchase 72 of the advanced fifth-generation fighter aircraft as part of the $17 billion AIR 6000 Phase 2A/B program – which is aimed at replacing the ageing F/A-18A/B Classic Hornets that have been in service with the RAAF since 1985.
The F-35A – the variant chosen by the RAAF – has a projected life of 30 years in service.
Commanding Officer No. 35 Squadron Wing Commander Matthew Harper said the F-35A was the only Western fighter jet that could carry both internal and external ordnance.
“This design feature allows Australian F-35As to be adapted to suit the threat environment and operational requirements,” WGCDR Harper said.
“This mode would most likely be used in less contested environments where rapid employment of ordnance is prioritised over maximising the F-35A’s stealth capabilities.”